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Let’s face it. No matter what the health condition, it’s usually the most visibly evident symptoms that are the most distressing! Think PCOS and you imagine chronic acne, facial hair growth, and dark skin patches. Read this blog to find out more about caring for your skin in PCOS, symptoms to look out for, and treatment options to follow.
How and Why Does PCOS Affect the Skin?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder commonly seen in women of reproductive age. In women with PCOS, the ovaries produce more than the normal amount of male hormones called androgens, leading to a hormonal imbalance.
The hormonal imbalance causes difficulties with ovulation, irregular menstrual cycles and multiple other symptoms of PCOS, including skin problems.
Insulin resistance and high androgen levels, two factors that contribute to PCOS, cause the skin-related symptoms of PCOS.
Skin and PCOS: Symptoms You Need to Watch Out For
Women with PCOS have higher levels of androgens and this plays a major role in driving the symptoms of the condition. Due to this change in your body, you may experience some or all of these skin issues in PCOS
The high androgen levels in PCOS may cause your skin glands to produce excess sebum. Sebum, an oily substance, combines with the dead cells inside the hair follicles and traps bacteria underneath. This leads to inflammation and acne.
Stress in PCOS may also be a supporter of acne growth. Wondering if there is a specific PCOS acne location? Yes, PCOS-related acne often shows up on the lower face, including the jawline, chin and upper neck.
Hirsutism is a condition when there is excess hair growth in women in areas where hair is generally less or absent. In hirsutism, women have thick, dark and coarse hair where men tend to have hair, such as the face, chin, neck, chest, abdomen, and back.
This is because of the high androgen levels in PCOS. While all women have thin hair (peach fuzz) on their faces, those with PCOS have higher than normal levels of androgens and thus develop darker and thicker hair on their face and body.
Areas of hair growth that are sensitive to androgen levels include:
- Upper lip
- Beard area
- Inner thighs
- Lower abdomen
- Lower back
Hair loss is a general situation that everyone experiences on a daily basis. But when it goes beyond normal, it can be due to an underlying condition, PCOS being one of them.
In PCOS-related hair loss, excessive androgen production causes the hair on your head to start thinning. This hair loss is medically termed androgenic alopecia and is commonly known as female-pattern baldness in women.
In men and women, around 10% of testosterone is converted into dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Once DHT is released into the bloodstream, it can link to receptors on your hair follicles, resulting in the shrinking of the follicles. This makes your hair become visibly thinner and may even cause it to fall out.
Unlike the complete baldness seen in male-pattern hair loss, women who have PCOS experience thinning of hair and shorter length of hair. Hair thinning in PCOS can also leave large areas of your scalp exposed.
Dark Skin Patches
PCOS can cause dark, thick, velvety patches on the skin in the back of your neck, under your breasts, under your arms, elbows, knees, and in the groin area. This condition is known as acanthosis nigricans and only some women may experience it in PCOS.The insulin resistance and resulting hyperinsulinemia (high insulin levels in blood) in PCOS lead to this skin condition. The excess insulin causes your skin cells to reproduce at a rapid rate. For those whose skin has more pigment, these newly produced cells have more melanin. This increase in melanin produces skin patches that are darker than the surrounding areas.
Now, How do you Treat PCOS Skin Problems?
With PCOS skin problems, treatment requires aiming at the root cause, which is mainly the hormonal imbalance due to PCOS. Your doctor may recommend the following treatment options for PCOS-related skin symptoms:
Birth Control Pills
Birth control pills are one of the most common and effective methods of reducing the symptoms of PCOS by managing hormone levels. They work by reducing androgen levels and regulating estrogen levels in your body.
Combination pills that consist of both the hormones estrogen and progestin (a synthetic form of progesterone) are often prescribed to help stabilise hormonal levels during your menstrual cycle and help manage symptoms such as unwanted hair growth, acne, and hair loss.
Since, the main culprit behind most skin-related symptoms of PCOS is increased androgen levels, it is crucial to decrease them to observe a difference in the symptoms. Anti-androgen drugs are prescription medicines that reduce the androgen levels in women with PCOS by binding to proteins called androgen receptors.
These medications can help reduce excessive facial and body hair growth, hair loss, and acne. It is important that you consult a doctor before starting these medications as they may have side effects such as birth defects.
Weight gain, insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia in PCOS can make your skin-related PCOS symptoms worse. You can manage PCOS by following a disciplined lifestyle. Aim to eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly and maintain your weight in the ideal range.
A reduction in weight can help manage insulin resistance and cause an improvement in PCOS symptoms, including acne, hair loss, excessive hair growth, and acanthosis nigricans.
Apart from these options that can help you manage PCOS and thus all related symptoms, different treatment options are available when you want to target a specific symptom.
For treating excessive facial and body hair growth:
- Eflornithine, a prescription medication in topical form, is designed specifically for excessive facial hair in women.
- Permanent hair removal, using electrolysis or laser treatment, can be availed.
- Methods such as plucking, shaving, waxing, and chemical depilation can be used for facial hair removal. Bleaching can reduce the visibility of unwanted facial hair.
For treating acne:
- Spironolactone, a diuretic used for treating high blood pressure, liver disease, and kidney disease, can reduce androgen levels and help with PCOS-related acne.
- In other medications, topical antibiotics such as clindamycin and erythromycin, anti-bacterial gel Dapsone, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, azelaic acid, and retinoids can help treat acne.
Always consult a doctor before starting any such medication.
For treating hair loss:
- Spironolactone is also prescribed for treating hormonal hair loss such as hair loss in PCOS.
- Minoxidil is a topical medication used for the treatment of female pattern baldness. It helps in hair growth and even makes the hair appear thicker.
- Hair transplant a surgical procedure to implant hair on the scalp, can be opted for.
- Platelet-rich plasma or PRP therapy, in which a sample of your blood is taken, the PRP component is extracted, and then injected into your scalp to stimulate hair follicles to grow and prevent hair loss, can be availed.
For treating acanthosis nigricans:
- Laser therapy can be used to reduce skin thickness.
- Dermabrasion is a technique that uses a rotating instrument to remove the outer layers of skin.
- Topical retinoids can increase the normal shedding of skin cells and reduce the appearance of the lesions.
When to See a Doctor?
If you experience some or all of the aforementioned skin-related symptoms or other symptoms of PCOS such as irregular periods or fertility issues, it is best to consult a doctor for prompt diagnosis of the cause behind the symptoms. An early diagnosis and management of PCOS can help resolve skin-related symptoms and prevent further complications.
Don’t Have Time To Read?
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder in women in which excess androgen (male hormone) production leads to ovulation difficulties, irregular menstrual cycle, and symptoms such as acne, hirsutism, hair loss, and dark skin patches.
- Insulin resistance and high androgen levels, two factors that contribute to PCOS are responsible for the skin-related symptoms of PCOS.
- Your doctor may recommend treatment options such as birth control pills, anti-androgen medications, lifestyle changes, and other symptom-specific treatments.
- If you experience some or all of the skin-related or other symptoms of PCOS such as irregular periods or fertility issues, consult a doctor for prompt diagnosis and treatment.
- Start your PCOS management journey with Phable. Use the Phable Care App to consult India’s leading gynaecologists, endocrinologists, nutritionists, and dieticians; order medicines; book lab tests; and get real-time remote care from the comfort of your home. Check out our store to order healthy treats, weighing scales, fitness bands, and more! We also have a PCOS Management program that provides 360º care.
Friendly Asked Questions
No, there is no scientific evidence to show that PCOS can cause dark lips. However, dark patches on the skin can be a symptom of PCOS, which may require immediate medical attention. It is best to see a doctor if you see any unusual changes in your skin.
No, PCOS does not change your facial features. However, you may observe many PCOS-related symptoms on your face, such as acne and excessive facial hair.
High androgen levels are the main culprit behind PCOS acne. They stimulate the production of more sebum by your skin’s glands. Sebum is an oily substance that combines with dead cells inside the hair follicles and traps bacteria in the follicles, leading to acne.
There is no permanent cure for PCOS and its symptoms. With effective lifestyle changes and treatment, you can manage the condition well. However, acne and other PCOS symptoms can be resolved completely by managing PCOS. PCOS acne can stay away as long as PCOS is managed well.
If your skin health is getting worse during your PCOS journey and you observe symptoms such as acne, hair loss, dark skin patches, or excessive hair growth on the face and body, it is best to consult a doctor at the earliest. The doctor can suggest treatment options according to your health condition. You may need to manage PCOS with the use of birth control pills, anti-androgen medication, and lifestyle changes. Other options are also available for specific skin symptoms.